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- Who: Heather Mason
- Website: caspianagency.com
- Course Topic: Event Planning
- Interesting Stats: 700 prospects on LinkedIn
Who are you and what course have you created?
I am the founder and CEO of Caspian Agency. For over 15 years, Caspian has brought a scientifically-based strategic methodology to white-glove event planning. Caspian’s signature course, the Caspian 10 Essentials™, has been taught internationally. It is featured curricula at San Diego State University Masters in Meetings and Events degree program.
Caspian also offers courses in Professional Presence & Presentation, Risk Management, and the Somatic Technique for Public Speaking. All course information can be found on our website.
What market does your online course serve?
Caspian’s online courses primarily serve the event industry, including event managers, producers, and the greater hospitality industry. The industry as a whole lacks a methodology by which all events can be run. The Caspian 10 Essentials, our signature course, is the solution to that.
By following the 10 Essentials, events become scalable, replicable, and are able to consistently meet objectives, all in an efficient manner. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, we responded by creating Thinking Virtually, an online course that helps those in the events and hospitality industries shift their thinking from in-person to virtual spaces. It’s not about “putting events online”. It’s about changing your mindset entirely. We have also just launched a new speaking course for executives, which we will be marketing soon.
What’s the biggest benefit of taking your course?
The goal of our courses, as well as our mantra, is to get you more Money, Power, and Respect, all of which are often lacking in the events industry. It is seen by some as a hobby industry, and therefore these courses equip event managers with the tools they need to have the right conversations that will change that modality. We have testimonials that prove the system works. The 10 Essentials have given people additional headcount in their departments, higher budgets, and better salaries.
How did you get into the market?
I took a project management course for my PMP, and I was struck by how similar the tasks and thinking were to the event industry, yet I was the only one in the class with that background. It made me realize that even though the event industry was maturing, it still lacked a consistent, industry-wide, accepted methodology for planning or producing an event. This inhibits respect for the industry and it impacts pay scales. And that had to stop. So I adapted project management principles, as well as some very clear event-specific ones, to create the 10 Essentials. At Caspian, we apply and use them in our own business, and they work every single time.
Why did you decide to create an online course in the first place?
I had only ever taught the 10 Essentials in-person, and I quickly realized that that was not going to be scalable. That’s why I decided to record and set up the 10 Essentials as an online course. The course itself lends itself very well to the online world, and we were able to get it CE-certified as well. Soon after the course was released, we contacted San Diego State University, and now both the Caspian 10 Essentials and Thinking Virtually are featured as course curricula in the Masters in Meetings & Events program at the school.
Did you have any moments of doubt before you created/launched it?
I didn’t struggle, but only because I had taught the course in person for several years, so I already knew what worked in the classroom. I also love performing and being in front of a camera, so that wasn’t the hard part. What was a challenge was making sure that there were enough stories to illustrate all the key points and not making the material too dry. I wanted to make sure that people would pay attention.
If so what made you turn it around and do it anyway?
I really wanted people to see themselves in the real-life stories I describe throughout the course. The 10 Essentials did not come from theory. They’ve come directly from lessons I’ve learned from over two decades in the events industry.They were all lessons born of pain. Knowing that I could help others avoid that pain was a huge motivator in creating the 10 Essentials online course. - Heather Mason Click To Tweet
What’s your online course like?
The Caspian 10 Essentials consists of 10 videos, with each video being broken down into three parts:
- A lecture to screen for 20 mins,
- 20 mins of whiteboarding showing how it is done, and
- 20 mins of Q&A with event managers asking the hard questions about each lesson.
The course ends with a quiz to be taken immediately after finishing if the individual wants to qualify for CE credit.
How long did it take you to create your course?
It took four full days (10 hours each) of filming, along with auditioning and hiring the event managers for the Q&As. We had one full day of a walkthrough with them as well. The videography was extensive, with a lighting and film crew, and set-up of each of the three sections. We also had wardrobe changes, as well as hair and make-up. All of this was done pre-COVID, so we didn’t have to worry about everything that would affect these elements now.
Tell us a little about the process of launching your course and getting your first sale(s).
We contacted SDSU directly, and they were our first sales to an institution. The rest of our sales have come through social media and online spaces for event managers. Additionally, I often run promotions for the courses when I’m invited to speak at various events and associations.
Do you have a lead magnet?
We offer the Fundamentals of Virtual Events as a free PDF, which has had varying responses. Some people just get the PDF and don’t purchase, while others are led to our website. What has proven more effective is our teaser course, MiniStrategy Module, which runs for five minutes and gives a preview of the 10 Essentials.
What’s the traffic strategy that works best for you?
We use SEO and social media, but LinkedIn has been our best source of traffic by far. That’s where the professionals who want to increase their skill sets gather the most, so that is our primary method. The next most successful is using my speaking gigs as promotional opportunities.
What online course platform are you using?
At first, we were using Teachable, but we switched over to Kartra for its ability to do email tracking and drip email campaigns.
Teachable is one of the top online course platforms used by successful course creators interviewed on coursemethod.com. It is very easy to set up, build your site pages with, and the course area looks great.
- Price Range: $0 (+ transaction fees) to $299/month
- Most Popular Plan: Pro Plan at $119/month
- Annual Discount: Yes, take 17% off!
- Free Trial: Try out Teachable’s core features for free
Do you like it?
It’s quite expensive, and we’re still assessing whether there is enough value in the drip campaigns to justify the cost. Right now our plan is to see how it goes for another month and do a focus group on drip campaigns. If there is negative feedback, we might consider switching back to Teachable.
Are there any features you wish it had?
I certainly wish it had a simpler user interface that would let someone purchase immediately rather than jumping through any hoops, along the lines of Amazon and other platforms that people are used to using. I would love for people to be able to get immediate access to the courses, rather than being sold, and resold, and sold again.
What made you decide to use your chosen platform over others?
As mentioned, the drip campaign was the main feature, but we’re still assessing whether it might turn out to be more of a bug than a feature.
What other tools do you use to run your online course business?
We use Mailchimp for our newsletter that sends out updates on both Caspian and our course offerings. We also use Google Forms for testimonials from focus groups. We’ve used Vimeo in the past for videography, and have found that that platform offers great editing and suggesting tools for editors. It’s also important to have a great lighting set-up (more than ring light) and microphone, although it’s surprising how good Airpods can be if you’re in a quiet location.
What books or training programs have you found useful on your journey to a successful business owner that others might find valuable too?
Anything by socio-economics writers such as Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink, Freakonomics, Chip Heath, etc. All of these writers talk about the psychology of buying, which is absolutely critical to understand.Most of us have no idea why we really buy things, and understanding this process on a deeper level is a key advantage to getting others to purchase your services. - Heather Mason Click To Tweet
To be clear, I don’t mean in a manipulating way. But you have to understand the underlying factors that drive people to purchase something.
Do you have any big mistakes you’ve made along the way that you’d be willing to share?
Absolutely. My biggest one would be that sharing too much for free can devalue your product. Always hold some in reserve. A lot of people will take your free items and not buy anything at all, and some will even copy them. If your content is worth it, don’t give it away.
Please share some idea of revenue.
We are currently selling about 1-2 per month on the larger purchases, and 2-3 on the smaller ones. It hasn’t hit critical mass just yet, but we are hoping to change that with the introduction of a contractor hired for social media devoted to sales.
Please tell us a little about what the money you’ve earned from your course has done for you.
At Caspian, these courses are just an augmentation of our existing business, and therefore not a business on their own. Instead, they feed into the larger ecosystem. Therefore, for a business owner, this is great for additional marketing, not to mention recurring revenue. Going forward, the bigger sales for us will be to institutions or association partners.
In addition to revenue are there any numbers you would like to share?
To date, I’ve added at least 700 qualified leads to my Linkedin profile since we started. This is helping to build my position as a thought leader in the industry, which is something we can leverage more going forward.
What has creating your course done for you personally?
The biggest thing that it’s given me is additional talking points about my business and my philosophy. Rather than yelling into the wilderness about how events should be about strategy first and that there should be a methodology behind them, I now have something concrete that I can point to that tells this story more thoroughly.
Do you have a story of a transformation from any of your clients?
My favorite story was when a woman made a point to call me up to let me know that after she took the 10 Essentials, she was able to advocate for two more extra headcounts to help her run events, as well as another $200K for her budget, all because of the Budget Essential.
Hearing that made me feel great and that I’m changing the game for women in the events industry. We’re 80+% of the industry, and yet we’re paid 38% less. It’s my firm belief that we have the ability to change that. There aren’t many industries where changing gender pay can be done by us. Furthermore, it can be done nearly overnight if we know the ways to do it. The 10 Essentials provide the means to do just that.
What advice do you have for people just starting out?
It takes a lot longer than you think and costs a lot more than you think. Additionally, while I am comfortable in front of the camera if you’re not, you need to put in the time to become comfortable. Screen time is TV time, and if you’re not good at TV, you won’t be good in an online course.